A Note from Kelly King: Are you familiar with the phrase, “mind over matter”? The way we process thoughts and what our minds absorb affects our actions and our lives. In today’s article, Courtney Veasey gives leaders some practical ways to use the process of visualization.
Prior to ever physically stepping into the blocks on race day, an Olympic runner will have already run that one-time race in front of her hundreds of times in her mind as part of her previous training. Similarly, in his bedtime routine leading up to opening night, a Broadway star mentally rehearses each scene from the play, seeing himself on stage, making his cues and hitting the difficult high notes with ease. Athletes, actors, surgeons, musicians, and others have long incorporated techniques of visualization into the training and practice of their disciplines. But what about those of us in ministry?
Insightful indeed is the Apostle Paul’s instruction in Romans 12:2, that as Christians we should “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” because as humans, to say “we are what we think,” isn’t just a nice-sounding colloquialism. Rather, medical and scientific studies have for some time demonstrated how in response to our thought patterns, our brains develop pathways of memory that ultimately impact and even determine our actions and behaviors.
A funny thing about our brains, however, is that they cause us to respond whether what we’re experiencing or seeing is real or not. For instance, consider how our reaction is similar whether we experience an actual person jumping out of a closet to scare us, or we simply view this scenario on a movie screen. Our brains do not readily differentiate between image and reality. That is the reason why the practice of visualization is so effective. This also lends some explanation as to why a healthy, beautiful young girl can begin to see herself as ugly and in need of extreme weight loss. Over time, her perception actually becomes her reality according to the patterns developed in her mind.
So, to recap…whatever our attention remains focused on—whether real or imagined, true or false—our brains work to motivate our bodies to respond accordingly. As ministry leaders, we have the opportunity to utilize such knowledge of our design in ways that can positively impact our personal walks with Christ, our families, and the ministries in which we now serve and ones we hope to serve in the future. Here are a few suggestions:
Visualization is an effective way to execute a skill many times over without actually working the physical body. Have any speaking engagements coming up? As part of your preparation, consider taking time each day leading up to an event to close your eyes and see yourself delivering the message. Visualize your notes on the podium, the hand motions and body movements you want to make in correlation with your points. Picture yourself as a member of the audience both seeing and hearing your message. How does it sound? Does the content make sense from their point of view? The same type of mental simulation is easily applied to other areas of leadership such as conducting meetings or leading small groups. From these standpoints, you might imagine yourself showing up on time, having all of your materials organized, and being confident in the Lord and yourself as you make decisions and help guide discussions.
Consider even taking your leadership team through visualization exercises as a group. What if in your next calendar meeting or in planning for your next event, you made time in the schedule to not only execute tasks and put pens to paper, but also to have your ladies close their eyes as you walk them through the upcoming year and/or event. Do you see the women signing up to serve? What does this calendar look like for a young mom or single working woman? Imagine women filing into the sanctuary. See the senior adult ladies coming in early to get good seats, help the teenage girl find the friend who invited her. What does the stage look like for our event? How is Christ represented in our greetings, our interactions, and our hospitality? In a different way than perhaps what you’ve done before, help your team see and grow into the large shoes you know God has given the ministry to fill.
Some time ago I was taught a visualization practice that has become more like a game I now regularly play. The exercise is called “remember forward,” where in a conversational way a person describes the memory of a reality she wants to see happen but that has not happened yet, as if it has already taken place. For instance, a friend and I, both in doctoral programs, spontaneously have these conversations where we imagine the day and celebration of our forthcoming graduation. “Do you remember graduation day? I sobbed through the whole ceremony! The party afterward at City Park was perfect with plenty of food and everyone was happy. Remember how tired we were catching our 6:00 a.m. flight the next day, but we didn’t care because we were headed to Maui to celebrate? What a great trip!” The discussion can go back and forth and be as creative as you want to make it, but the point is to keep a goal—a vision you want to see happen—out in the forefront of your mind so that the brain signals the body to take action toward that perceived reality.
Obviously our visions need to be within the realm of possibility. Being five foot four, I don’t spend time visualizing myself growing to reach six feet tall. But I often do “remember forward” with others and even with God about the visions for ministry residing in my heart. “Remember, God, when office space opened up right in the area we were praying it would? The team You assembled was better than I imagined: humble, hard-working servants who were a joy to be around. Remember how much fun we had showing up with our food truck at those smaller churches and serving everyone brunch in honor of special women on staff? And how we and the missionaries both cried when it was time to return home. We loved getting to care for them, Jesus, if only for just a few weeks.”
If we will see the opportunity for what it is, as leaders we can foster a culture of freedom where those around us in our ministry and home environments are encouraged to dream with God and learn to be comfortable speaking aloud visions of the heart that deserve a chance to take shape.
The writer of Hebrews shares how “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). He goes on to tell of those in our heritage who went forward in faith, believing God for what had not yet been seen by the physical eye. Our desires and abilities to do the same today not only reflect our likeness to our Maker, but as Hank Williams Jr. famously sang, it’s just our way of “carrying on an old family tradition.”
Courtney considers the places she has lived, the ministry she has taken part in, and the people she has met along the way to be some of God’s greatest gifts to her. A native Floridian, Courtney has also lived and served in various ministry positions in South Carolina, Northern California, and currently Louisiana where she is a member of the faculty and Director of Women’s Academic Study Programs at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Aside from her many affections in life (family, Florida State football, travel, music, etc.), Courtney’s greatest passion is to love and serve God and His people through the teaching of His living Word.